I was inspired to write this post after I read this one on a blog that I follow. The author talks about how she started her blog partly to make new friends. She had everything she wanted except for a BFF.
It got me thinking and remembering some of my own fears regarding moving abroad. Sure, fears of finding a job, navigating new cities, and learning to live in a country where I didn’t speak the language were huge concerns, but my biggest concern was making friends.
It’s something I had never learned to do, you see.
As a teenager I had incredibly low self-esteem and I was pathologically shy. I went to the same school K-8, and had the same friends since kindergarten. I started high school far from home, in a completely new environment, away from my family and friends. It was tough making new friends, mostly because, in retrospect, I never tried. It took a semester or more before I began making friends, and that made for a miserable year.
The following year, I moved back home, and began school at a new high school again. Some of my old classmates attended my school but they were not ones with whom I had ever been friends. The few attempts I made at reconnecting with my old friends fell flat. I had been gone a year and at that age that was all it took. We had all gone our separate ways to different schools and different lives. I did eventually make friends, but it took six months or longer, and in truth, I never felt especially close to any of my high school friends. During that time, I had one long-standing friend, and many who came and went. Once high school was over, so were the friendships.
I began college with the hope that things would be different, and eventually they were, though through no effort of mine. Most of my friends made themselves my friends, or became my friends after long association.
I didn’t learn how to reach out until I moved abroad. In Poland, I was lucky because I had my sister and her friends automatically became mine. Through her, I began meeting people. The night after I arrived, I went to a small dinner party with her and met a girl who asked me for my number. She called the next day and asked if I wanted to hit the club.
I didn’t want to go. Wouldn’t it be weird? I thought. I don’t even know her, what would we talk about?
My sister just looked at me and shook her head. I don’t think she could believe what she was hearing. She had to lecture me for some time before I screwed up my courage to go. But go I did, and didn’t come staggering home until five or six in the morning. Damn, that was a hell of a fun night. And that’s how I met my first Polish friend.
Over the next few months I began to put myself out there more and more, although it took the efforts of yet another girl before I tried in earnest. This one I met through work, and again, she had to make the first overture. We went out a couple of times before we began to hit it off, and she introduced me to some of her friends. As time passed, I increasingly met more and more people and grew closer to a number of girls. I attended Ex-pat events with them, the bar, the club, and the park. By summer of 2011, I was comfortable walking into social events where I knew people by sight only.
It turned out that all it took was some courage, a smile, and a willingness to make the first move. Beer didn’t hurt either. As my confidence grew, so did my group of acquaintances and friends. I no longer waited to be approached, nor did I hover at the edge of a group, standing mute, hoping someone would include me all the while feeling sick and ill at ease. Instead, I walked right in. I would walk right up to a group, and at the first pause in the conversation I jumped in. No one ever seemed to mind.
As a naturally shy person, I know we are often concerned with people laughing at us behind our backs, or thinking we’re weird. We’re convinced that we have nothing interesting to say and feel our every move is awkward and stupid. What we often forget is that no one is analyzing us that closely and no one particularly cares. Most people are willing to talk and most people don’t mind making a new friend.
My experiences in Poland gave me room to grow, not only in confidence, but in guts. By the time I left Poland, I was ready for Taiwan. I had a plan of action. I knew how to meet people, I knew how to chat them up, and I was ready to go. I arrived in Taiwan brimming with excitement, adventure, and an eagerness to get myself out there.
Taiwan made it easy on me. Before I arrived I had already scoped out a few groups on Face Book where I could meet people. I found more when I arrived, and joined Meet Up as well. I was introduced to InterNations when I was still in Poland, so I made it a point to go to the first gathering that came up. Here, meeting people takes a minimum of effort. Any bar, club, Ex-pat event, or even any English-speaking event is enough to get the ball rolling. Actually, if you’re a Westerner, sometimes all you have to do is walk down the street.
The only thing that any of this takes is getting over that initial hump. As an Ex-pat I’m used to showing up to events alone. I’m not going to lie and say it didn’t suck the first few times. It is every shy person’s nightmare. But if I got over it, anyone can. Being alone and not knowing a soul is a common part of the Ex-pat life. Every Ex-pat can identify with it, and every Ex-pat has had to learn how to overcome it. Consequently, every Ex-pat has learned that there are thousands of people out there willing to know us, help us, and call us friend. People are warmer, friendlier, and more willing to be kind to a stranger than I ever imagined.
Whatever your fears are about moving abroad, or if you’re already abroad and feeling lonely, don’t be. The world is at your feet waiting to share the best experience of your life.
All you have to do is screw up your courage and step out the door to meet it.
How have you met some of your friends? What is the most or weird story you have about meeting a friend?